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Interpreters help Idaho's refugees understand and get COVID-19 vaccines

Many languages are not technical and don't use many English terms, making it hard for many refugees to fully understand what the vaccine is and how it works.

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee (CVAC) met on Friday to discuss Idaho's plan for the next step in the vaccine rollout, but officials also talked about ways to better communicate information about vaccines to Idaho's refugee community. 

"We don't have words like DNA, we don't have words like nuclear, the nucleus or the cell," said Salome Mwangi with the Idaho Office for Refugees. "Even when they are having conversations with their doctors, should the doctor say something like hypertension, they may not realize that the doctor is talking about high blood pressure."

The Idaho Office for Refugees helps those who recently were resettled in Boise with things such as English language learning, employment services and case management. In the 2018-2019 financial year, the top five languages for new refugees were Swahili, Bembe, Arabic, Kinyarwandan and Kinyabwisha, according to the IOR.

Mwangi said a lot of African languages are not technical and don't use many English terms, making it hard for many refugees to fully understand what the vaccine is and how it works.

"As an interpreter, I know that if I tell somebody to get the vaccine they will do it because I said it but I don't want people to get the vaccine because I'm saying it, I want you to have the information and them make an informed decision based on the information that you have," she said.

Mwangi is working with other interpreters and mental health providers who have worked with refugees to establish better communication. 

"A lot of refugees that are here have been through some horrible traumatic situations and experiences so acknowledging that and saying I understand that this could be the reason you are hesitant, I understand that this experience that you went through, predisposes you to not trust new things and new situations," Mwangi said.